Authors: Jon Sharpe
Fargo raised the Colt but Mai Wing put her hand on his arm.
“No,” she whispered. “They are on their way out the back.”
Sure enough, the voices faded.
The ramp was about six feet wide. Double doors were fitted with large rollers at street level.
Fargo took hold of a handle and tugged. The door slid easily enough, and he cracked it open a few inches. He could see the stream, and across it, Han's towering Pagoda. He could also see several Tong loitering near the bridge. If he opened the door all the way, they were bound to spot him. “We'll wait a few minutes.”
Mai Wing put her hands on her knees and bent over and groaned.
“How bad?” Fargo asked.
“I am dizzy,” Mai Wing said. “They hit me on the head.”
“But not in the face.”
“No,” Mai Wing said bitterly. “So we could go to work for Madame Lotus that much sooner. The face is very important.”
Fargo recollected the painted faces of the women in the parlor. “They took it for granted you'd give in.”
“They bragged that everyone does, sooner or later. There is only so much pain a person can take.”
One of the Pou sisters fell to her knees and the other sister comforted her. They whispered, and one spoke to Mai Wing.
“She says that her sister is badly hurt inside. One of the Tong kicked her. She does not know if she can go on.”
“She has to try,” Fargo said. He peered out again. The Tong by the bridge were drifting up the street. The moment they were out of sight he opened the door wide enough for them to slip through. He helped Mai Wing and then the Pous.
Off to the left was the entrance to the House of Pleasure. Two painted girls were leaning against the wall and hadn't noticed them. Nor did anyone passing by pay any attention.
Minding one's business might as well have been a law in Hunan.
“Where can I take you?” Fargo wondered if the O'Briens might help. Then again, it might put the family in danger.
“My grandfather,” Mai Wing said, and pointed to the east. “If we can reach his cabin. But there are always Tong out and around.”
“I have an idea,” Fargo said, and ushered them around the corner. “Stay put. I'll be right back.”
Fargo practically ran to the Ovaro. Swinging onto the saddle, he rode back up the street. The two girls glanced at him and went on talking. He went around to the side and drew rein. “Give me directions as we go. I'll go slow.”
“The Tong will see you,” Mai Wing said. “On your animal you are conspicuous.”
“But they won't see you on the other side,” Fargo hoped. It wasn't much of a plan but it was the best he could come up with.
With the Ovaro moving at a walk and the sisters leaning on the stallion to keep from falling, they covered the quarter mile or so to a short side street. Along the way Fargo spotted half a dozen Tong. Apparently word had gone out from Han not to give him any trouble, which worked in their favor.
“This is the one,” Mai Wing said as they neared the last cabin on the right.
The windows were dark. She had to knock for a good two minutes before a light flared and shuffling steps came from the other side of the door. A man evidently asked who it was, and she answered.
Fargo rode around to the side so the Ovaro was out of sight, and dismounted. He reached the door just as an old man in a nightshirt was about to close it. His presence seemed to startle the oldster and he drew back in alarm.
Mai Wing calmed him. The old man helped herâreluctantly, Fargo thoughtâseat the Pou sisters, and commenced to put tea on.
Fargo shut the door and leaned against it. “You can't stay here long,” he said to Mai Wing. “The Tong must know he's your kin.”
“They do,” Mai Wing confirmed. “But we should have time to eat and drink and tend our wounds. After that, I do not know.”
Fargo thought of the O'Briens again. “I know some people who might be willing to help. It shouldn't take me more than twenty minutes to get there and back.” He didn't like the idea of leaving her. Once the bodies in the House of Pleasure were discovered, the Tong would be after them like bloodhounds on a scent.
“You have already done so much. I cannot ask you to do more.”
“Who said you had to ask?”
“If the Tong find us, they will kill you for helping us escape.”
“What's your point?”
“Please. Do not make light of this. I would not have your life on my conscience.”
“Twenty minutes,” Fargo said, and went back out. He saw no sign of the Tong until he was almost to the bridge, and once again they showed no interest in him. Crossing over, he was passing the blacksmith shop when a brainstorm struck like a thunderclap. “Why didn't I think of it sooner?” he said to the Ovaro, and reined over.
Fargo knocked but there was no answer. He tried the latch. The door was bolted. Walking around to the side, he looked in a window. A lit lantern hung from a peg, casting enough light to show that no one was there.
A noise drew Fargo to the rear.
A horse had been hitched to a buckboard and Tom Bannon was loading tools and personal effects into the bed. He had on his leather apron.
“Bannon,” Fargo said by way of greeting.
The blacksmith whirled and grabbed for a hammer. “You!” he blurted, and relaxed and smiled.
Fargo nodded at the buckboard. “Are you still fixing to leave?”
“Need you ask?” Bannon rejoined. “I can't take any more of this place. I'm getting out in the middle of the night, as planned.”
“Is there room for three more?”
“What are you talking about?”
Quickly, Fargo explained about Mai Wing and the Pou sisters.
Bannon swore luridly, then said, “It doesn't surprise me a bit, Han forcing girls to sell their bodies.”
“Does that mean you will or you won't?” Fargo was eager to get back.
“There's not a lot of room left,” Bannon said. “But I suppose if one of them rides on the seat with me and the other two are willing to sit in the back, we can manage.”
“I'll go give them the news.”
“One thing,” Bannon said as Fargo turned. “I don't mind taking them so long as they don't mind going east. I'm heading for Denver. They can ride with me the whole distance or I'll let them off anywhere they want along the way.”
“What time are you leaving?”
Bannon took a pocket watch from his apron and opened it. “Let's say two o'clock. Have them here by one thirty.”
“They'll be here.”
Fargo didn't spot any Tong on his way back to the cabin. He knocked, and Mai Wing opened the door to admit him. She had cleaned herself up and combed her hair.
The Pou sisters were huddled by the fireplace. The one who had been kicked was leaning against the other, and pasty with sweat.
Fargo went to tell Mai Wing about the blacksmith, and realized someone was missing. “Where's your grandpa?”
“He went to a healer for herbs,” Mai Wing revealed. “He should return soon.”
Fargo told her about Bannon and his buckboard, ending with, “You can say adios to this place forever. I'll help you gather up whatever you'd like to take.”
“Whatever made you think I would leave?”
For a moment Fargo was dumbfounded. “How in hell can you stay after what the Tong did to you?”
“My grandfather is here. My friends are here.” Mai Wing shook her head. “I cannot go.”
Fargo couldn't believe what he was hearing. “You ran away earlier.”
“They were chasing me. I would have snuck back later if they hadn't seen the smoke from your fire and caught me.”
“You're not safe here, damn it.”
“I am sorry.”
Fargo gestured at the sisters. “What about those two? Do they want to stay too?”
Mai Wing put the question to the siblings. “They say they will accept your gracious offer,” she translated their response.
“They have more sense than you do.”
“If you were in my shoes I doubt you would run,” Mai Wing countered. “Why do you hold it against me for doing what you would do?”
Fargo had no answer for that. He leaned against the wall while she poured tea for the sisters. He admired her grit, but if Han got his hands on her again, there was no telling what the little monster would do.
Someone rapped on the door.
Fargo placed his hand on his Colt.
Mai Wing brushed past, saying, “There is no need for that. It will be my grandfather.”
She was right. The old man entered and chattered at the women.
Mai Wing looked crestfallen. “He says the healer wasn't in,” she reported. “He'll have to go back in a while to see about the herbs.”
“It might be best to forget about them,” Fargo cautioned.
“No. You can see how poorly the younger Pou is doing. Without them she might die.”
“If it's not chickens, it's feathers.”
“Nothing,” Fargo said grumpily. He could have done with some coffee. He asked if there was any to be had and she relayed that her grandfather only drank tea. “Figures,” he muttered.
The old man, Fargo noticed, was wringing his hands and acting as nervous as a canary in a room full of cats. He attributed it to harboring the women.
Then the Ovaro whinnied.
Fargo darted to the window and warily peered out without showing himself.
Dark figures were closing on the cabin. The Tong had found them.
Even as Fargo set eyes on them, a tremendous crash shook the front door and a pair of brawny hatchet men spilled into the room.
One of the Pou sisters screamed.
The foremost Tong saw Mai Wing and moved toward her, raising his hatchet.
Fargo shot him in the head.
The second Tong glanced over and rushed him, letting out a cry of rage.
Fargo shot him in the chest. At his elbow the window shattered in an explosion of glass shards and a thrown hatchet arced past his face. Pivoting, he beheld two Tong just outside. He shot them both.
Mai Wing yelled a warning.
Yet another Tong was coming through the front door. He whipped his arm back to throw his hatchet.
“Drop it,” Fargo warned, extending his Colt.
The man hesitated.
“You don't have to die,” Fargo said.
Mai Wing said something, apparently translating.
The Tong glanced at her and then at Fargo. He started to lower his hatchet, or pretended to. With a shout, he suddenly straightened and his arm arced.
Fargo shot him before the hatchet left his hand.
Grabbing at his face, the Tong took a faltering step and folded.
In the silence that ensued, Fargo's ears rang. Mai Wing stared at the dead Tong. The Pou sisters were crouched in fear.
Over in a corner, the grandfather gaped aghast at the slaughter.
Fargo went to the door. They didn't have a lot of time. The gunshots would bring more. He hastily reloaded, snapping over his shoulder, “We have to leave. Now.”
“I told you I'm not going,” Mai Wing said.
“You stay and they'll kill you,” Fargo predicted. He motioned at the bodies. “Han won't let you live after this.”
“They must have followed us without us knowing,” Mai Wing said.
“No,” Fargo said. “Your grandfather brought them.”
“That cannot be,” Mai Wing said, and turned to the old man. The look on his face said all there was to say.
“Grandfather?” she said in English, and switched to Chinese.
Fargo went out and around to the Ovaro. He figured if he could get them to one of the pockets of woodland that dotted the canyon floor, they'd lie low for a couple of hours and he'd take them to the blacksmith's after things quieted down.
Mai Wing was in tears. She came to him and placed her hands on his chest. “You were right. He told them where I was.” She sobbed, and caught herself. “He betrayed my trust for money.”
Fargo remembered a comment Lo Ping made when they first met. “Five will get you ten he's the one who sold you to Madame Lotus.”
Shock set Mai Wing back on her heels. She looked at her grandfather and more tears flowed. “How could he do this to me?” she said, to herself more than to Fargo.
“We have to go.”
Mai Wing blinked and dabbed at her eyes. “I am sorry. Yes. More of them will come.” She went to the sisters and helped them to stand. As they came toward the door, her grandfather barred their way.
The grandfather pointed at Mai Wing and said something and she looked at Fargo.
“He says that if I were a dutiful granddaughter, I would let the Tong take me to the House of Pleasure.”
“Tell him to get the hell out of your way.”
“He says he won't.”
“Fine,” Fargo said, and drawing his Colt, he slammed it against the old man's head. Not anywhere near hard enough to kill but hard enough that the old man sprawled unconscious.
Mai Wing stifled a sob. “I love him so much. He was all the family I had left in the world.”
They hurried out.
Fargo had her explain to the Pou sisters what he was about to do, then swung each up and over the saddle. With the sisters clinging to each other and Mai Wing at his side, he headed west along the canyon wall until they came to a stand of trees.
“This should do us for a spell.”
Fargo helped the sisters off. He untied his bedroll, spread out his blankets, and through Mai Wing, told them they were welcome to lie down and rest. They gladly accepted.
Shucking the Henry from the saddle scabbard, Fargo moved to where he could see their back trail. He doubted the Tong would attempt to track them at night, but better safe than dead. Hunkering, he set the rifle across his lap and wearily rubbed his eyes.
Soft footfalls heralded Mai Wing. She eased down next to him and whispered, “They are asleep already.”
“You should try to get some rest yourself.”
“I'm too upset over my grandfather. The pain doesn't help, either.” She bent nearer. “There is something I would like to know.”
Fargo was straining to hear sounds from the vicinity of the cabin.
“Why did you come for me? And this time give me an honest answer, if you please.”
“One of the Hu brothers hit me over the head and left me lying in the dirt.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“The Hus work for Han.”
“I still don't understand. Unless you are saying that by saving me, you get back at him for the indignity of being laid low.”
“That's as good a reason as any,” Fargo said.
“All this is to you is revenge? I do not believe it for a minute.”
Fargo shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
Mia Wing put her hand on his knee. “Thank you. I am in your debt. Whatever you ask of me, I will do.”
“Remind me of that after you've healed up,” Fargo said with a grin.
An occasional voice and once the sound of laughter drifted to them from Hunan. Then there were shouts, and lights bobbed up and down the main street and along the side streets.
“The Tong are searching for us.” Mai Wing stated the obvious.
“We're safe enough here.”
“They will not rest until they find us.”
“Han will want your head. He can't let you live after you have killed so many of his hatchet men. The rest would resent it.”
“I aim to deal with him, too.” Fargo sensed she was studying him in the dark. “Don't make more of it than there is.”
“You are one against many.”
“Chop off a snake's head and the snake dies.”
“Should you succeed in slaying Han, Lo Ping will assume his place.”
“Two heads, then.”
“I wish I had your confidence. I have never been very strong.”
“You stood up to Han.”
“Only because I refuse to let men I do not know run their hands over me. It is
body. I should have a say, don't you think?”
“No one should touch you if you don't want them to,” Fargo agreed.
“Isn't that in yourâ What do you call the document? Your Constitution?”
“I don't know as there is anything in there about touching.”
“You haven't read it?” Mai Wing asked in surprise.
“I had a little schooling when I was a kid and the teacher talked about it some. But, no, I've never read the thing. What I remember most is that I have the right to wear this.” Fargo patted the Colt. “And any son of a bitch who says I can't will eat his teeth.”
“Maybe I am mistaken,” Mai Wing said. “Maybe the touching is in your Bible. The Ten Commandments, I believe they are called. Do you know them?”
“I recollect my pa going on about honor thy father and thy mother,” Fargo quoted. “And there's another one that we're not supposed to kill.”
“Yet you do.”
“When an Apache comes at me with a knife in his hand or one of those Tong with his hatchet, you're damn right I do.”
“So you are not what Americans would call religious?”
Fargo thought of all the women he'd made love to and all the whiskey he'd sucked down and the countless hours he'd spent playing poker and the enemies he had bucked out in gore. “Most folks would say I'm anything but.” He paused. “Why the hell are we talking about this?”
“I am sorry if I have upset you,” Mai Wing said contritely. “I just want someone to talk to. So I do not think ofÂ .Â .Â . what has happened.”
“Flap your gums all you want then,” Fargo said, feeling guilty.
“Do you think your God is mad at you for killing?”
Fargo looked at her. “You ask the strangest damn questions. How would I know what God thinks?”
“My people do not believe as your people do. But if there is a God, I find it strange that God said we should not kill when God kills. We are born but to dieâis that not so?”
“Damn it, woman,” Fargo said. “My head is about to explode.”
“Again, I am sorry. You do not like to talk about these things, do you?”
“Not if I can help it.”
In the quiet that followed they could hear yells and saw dozens of lanterns flitting about like oversized fireflies.
“They will go through the entire camp from end to end.”
“Would you mind if I used you as a pillow?” Mai Wing asked.
Before Fargo could answer, she shifted and lowered her head to his leg and placed her cheek on his thigh.
“Is this all right?”
“Fine,” Fargo growled. It was a shame, he reflected, that they couldn't make love. “I'll wake you when it's time.”
“Should the Tong kill you, I will burn incense in your honor and remember you until the day I die.”
Fargo supposed she meant that as a compliment of some sort. “Get some sleep.”
Mai Wing was still a bit, and then said softly, “Before this is over, there will be a lot more killing, won't there?”
“A hell of a lot,” Fargo said.